Orna

Orna is an interesting augmented reality game, with an focus on the “Game” bit.

Orna is an augmented reality game in the general vein of Pokemon Go. Where Pokemon Go is heavy on the augmented reality and sometimes forgets to be a game, Orna remembers that AR games are supposed to actually be… well, games. In general, it functions as a semi-procedural RPG. There are monsters to fight, dungeons to explore, quest givers, inns, and shops.

You can filter what shows up on your map by what you’re looking for, including only showing enemies, or only showing larger bosses.

Like Pokemon Go, you have a sphere around you that dictates what you can interact with, and if you want your character to move, you need to move around in real life. The game world is overlaid on top of a world map, and you tap nearby things to interact with them.

Perhaps the biggest difference between Orna and most other augmented reality games I’ve seen is that Orna is focused on being a game. While combat starts out as a fairly simple affair, leveling up gives you the ability to unlock and switch between additional classes. The higher tier classes give access to additional skills, abilities, and skill slots, letting you bring more moves into battle.

For example, earlier in the game I had a thief who turned into a magic wielding wizard. I would buff myself up to be able to dodge attacks, then just stab people a bunch. After a while, I found that not having access to elemental abilities was making it harder to defeat certain enemies. So I switched over being more of caster.

Before I stopped playing, I’d rebuilt again into using physical damage, but casting low-mana cost spells to apply elemental damage of various types to my attacks, while trying to lock the enemy down with sleep and other status effects. This only worked because I’d unlocked a high enough tier class to bring in about 8 spells to battle, and ran a pet that had a chance to heal me each round, so I could just focus on damage and status effects. So there was quite a lot of build variety available to me.

You start out with just two skill slots, but you get more as you unlock higher tier classes.

The end result of all of this is a reasonably in depth system that, oddly enough, illustrates something to me that I hadn’t thought about too much before. Why do so many Augmented Reality games lack in-depth mechanics? The answer, I realized, is because outside of all this combat, you are at least in theory supposed to be playing this game while wandering around outside. In games with in-depth combat mechanics, combat actually requires attention and planning. Trying to play Orna and not walk into people/traffic/road signs is actually pretty tricky.

Instead, I often found myself pausing my walk in order to finish combat encounters or larger boss fights. Orna includes an auto-attack system to get through fights while not paying attention, but using it tended to result in me getting my ass handed to me. A level of attention and focus was necessary to actually win.

Most of the game’s secondary systems also run into a similar problem. There are dungeons, which are a longer gauntlet of battles, and you can’t pause or anything between. There’s the arena, where you face off against other players’ builds controlled by the AI. Both of these can be a bit tricky, and require you to actually be careful with your moves.

On the flip side, there are some systems that encourage moving around, at least a little bit. You get quests through daily random quests, from quest givers, or from other sources. Some quests just ask you to “explore” and walk a certain distance. In addition, there’s a territory capturing system that gives you bonuses for a time period for beating the mini-boss controlling an area.

No, the blue currency isn’t premium, it’s Orns, used to create various buildings and unlock new classes. But you can’t buy it with real money.

You can also construct various different types of shops and buildings to provide additional passive income, and other boosts and benefits. Some of these buildings can be seen and used by other players, while some can’t. But if you want you can choose to make the public ones private. In theory, this would let you wander around and discover other players’ structures, but in practice, I mostly just built everything in one place, and never left that area.

There are a bunch of other systems, including upgrading items, socketing gems into items, fishing, and various multiplayer raids, but I haven’t played around with them enough to really know what to say.

Look, this photo of my gear is just here to pad out the article.

And that’s a general overview of Orna. An interesting augmented reality game without excessive microtransaction bullshit, but which is sometimes a bit hard to play because of how many mechanics and systems work. Or at least, difficult to play while not getting hit by a truck.

If Orna sounds cool, or you want to play something that requires you to walk around a bit and isn’t Pokémon Go, you can find Orna on the Apple App Store and Google Play store if you just search the name. If you’re not sure, there’s more info on the game’s webpage here.

PAX Unplugged 2021 – Day 2

In which our narrator sleeps in, and then goes to the Unpub hall.

Day 2! AKA Saturday. This was my lightest day of the show. Not because the show floor was any lighter, but more because I was up past midnight the night before playing some two-headed giant sealed Magic: The Gathering with friend and occasional Gametrodon contributor, Max Seidman of Resonym. Of course, he got up the very next day, and went to work his booth and demo games for the remainder of the day… so… hmm.

I might just be weak.

By the time I got to the convention center after making the arduous trek all the way across the skybridge, I’d decided to spend a majority of the day at the Unpub hall. For anyone reading this post who hasn’t heard of Unpub, it’s a room where folks show off their unpublished board games and game demos. Polish levels range from “The Kickstarter is next week” to “I have never shown this to anyone I’m not related to.”

The first game I played was Arachno-Bump/Bounce, a fairly simple board game that according to its designer is targeted at families. It falls heavily into the second category of the above of being very new to playtesting. (That’s not a bad thing, it’s just a literal assessment.) In this game, you’re all spiders on a big web trying to capture as many flies as possible by moving around, and prevent your opponents by bumping them. I’d say that right now it has some problems, but honestly, what prototype doesn’t? Hopefully a few days of exposure to the general population of con goers will let the dev collect some good feedback and understand that players are ruthless fucks information. (To be less metaphorical and prosaic: right now, it’s very difficult to score points, the game heavily rewards aggression, and it also has room for accessibility improvements. But again, THIS IS A PROTOTYPE. These are all things that can be fixed.)

Next up was Territory CG, an LCG. I managed to scrape out a win here, either because the dev I was playing against was going easy on me, or because I top-decked a massive one-copy-allowed-per-deck dragon right as I needed it. But regardless, I was victorious! This game was unlike Arachno-Bounce in a number of ways. For starters, they have a website! And estimated prices! And they already have a playable version of the game on Tabletop Simulator! I might try to rope a few more friends into playing this with me. One round is really not enough to get a good sense of an LCG, but I applaud the effort, and the also the part where I don’t have to sell my kidneys in order to afford a card game.

This brings us to the last game of the day: Wingspan! It’s not an Unpub hall game. It’s actually been out for a while. It’s won fancy awards with German titles, and it’s rank 22 on Board Game Geek at time of writing. Wait, you find yourself thinking. Is he just using awards and other secondary features of the game to get out of having to actually describe the mechanics and gameplay? Is he not going to touch on the game’s themes, engine building mechanics, and other aspects?

Yes. That is exactly what I’m doing. Also, I got kicked out of the convention hall before I could finish. Because it was midnight.

Return tomorrow for DAY 3!

PAX Unplugged 2021 – Day 1

Like regular PAX, but in the dark.

Each day for the next 3 days, I’ll be recapping my PAX Unplugged experience.

I’m writing this while chilling in my hotel room on Saturday. I’m also writing it on my phone, so I’m gonna blame that for any problems or text issues, as opposed to my own ability.

Ed Note: Now I’m editing it on my computer post con, so uh, that excuse doesn’t work anymore.

Friday started off with a bit of a struggle to get into the building, but once I was in, lines were quick and easy. PAX Unplugged is enforcing masks and a vaccine check this year, so you have to get a little black wristband to enter. I haven’t seen any issues or folks being jerks about masks, so hopefully this signals some sort of path forward for big conventions. Realistically, we’ll want to wait a few weeks to make sure a NYCC doesn’t happen here.

Okay, so games. I started off by playing Robot Quest Arena by Wise Wizard. It’s a neat 2-4 player arena combat deck builder. It’s not out just yet, and while a few of the interactions were a bit hard to remember, I enjoyed it. Trying to edit links on Mobile sucks, so here’s the Kickstarter page. The short version is that you build up your deck while also moving a little robot around on a grid, and scoring victory points primarily by damaging and knocking out other bots. One big thing I enjoyed is that the game doesn’t ever eliminate players. Instead, when you get knocked out, you just come back in right at the start of your next turn. It’s nice to see a combat game without elimination, but where getting hit and knocked out still feels meaningful.

Next up was Knights of the Hound Table, by We Ride Games. This game is also a deck builder, but with a very different vibe. Instead of battling robots on a grid, you’re leading an army of dogs to battle. I was interested enough after the demo I played at their booth that We Ride Games loaned me a test copy of the game that I need to remember to return to them tomorrow, hopefully after playing it tonight.

Ed Note: While said night game never happened, I did end up playing it, and getting a copy. There will likely be a full review at some point in the near future.

My last two games were right next to each other, but we’ll go through them one by one. First was Valiant Wars. It’s a head to head push your luck deck builder. (Yeah, there are a lot of deck builders this year.) The oversimplified description of it is that you flip cards out at the same time as your opponent until you either choose to hold and use the cards you’ve currently drawn to buy units, or bust by flipping up two of a card called a Dark Omen. It’s interesting, but I didn’t get a chance to play the full game, so I don’t have an opinion on it quite yet. While it’s already out, I’m linking to the Kickstarter page, mostly just to match the other games I’ve linked to.

Finally, the last game of the day was Iconoclash. It’s by Quinn Washburn, the same fellow who made Valiant Wars, and it’s a Smash Bros style board game. While I played a full round, I feel like I’d really need to play a few more to figure out how I feel about the game. I believe the version I played is a prototype of something headed to production shortly. Frankly, I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it.

As far as I can remember, that wrapped up all of Day 1 of PAX Unplugged. Did I do other things? Yes, but they weren’t game related. And as much as I’d love to write some sort of love poem to the food of Reading Terminal right next to the convention center, I’m not sure that really meshes with the tone of this blog.

Day 2 approaches! Tomorrow.

Halo: Infinite – Multiplayer

The actual gameplay is great. Everything else feels half-baked.

When actually playing the Halo: Infinite multiplayer, it’s fantastic and an incredibly enjoyable experience. Everything that isn’t actually playing the game, though, kind of sucks.

Halo: Infinite is the 6th mainline entry in the Halo series. Or something like that. I guess we also have Halo: Reach, and Halo: MCC? But Halo: MCC is a remake, sorta, and Halo 5 should never have been released. So with a bit of creative math, we can pretend that Halo: Infinite is the 6th game. Whatever, I’ll probably edit this bit out later, so it doesn’t matter. The point is, Halo has been around a long time.

If you’ve somehow never heard of or played Halo, this next bit is for you. For everyone else, please skip ahead.

Halo Crash Course

Halo is a first person shooter, developed originally by Bungie, but the series is owned by Microsoft at this point. Currently the series is developed by 343 Industries. It has both multiplayer and single player components. For the purpose of today’s review, we’re just looking at the multiplayer portion. As far as first person shooters go, there are three main things that differentiate Halo from other FPS games: the health system, the guns/gunplay itself, and the generally higher time to kill. All three of these are somewhat present, so we’ll cover their presence and implementation in Halo:Infinite. We’ll cover them quickly here.

  1. Health System – Players in Infinite have two types of “Health:” these are Health and Shields. While a player has shields, all damage dealt is equivalent, regardless of where the shot lands. Bodyshot vs headshot makes no difference while a player still has shields, but the second the shields go down, headshots are meaningful again. Both health and shields start to regenerate after several seconds out of combat.
  2. Guns/Gunplay – All guns are not made equal. When a player spawns in, they either get an assault rifle and pistol in unranked modes, or the DMR in ranked modes, and 2 grenades. There are no loadouts or secondary options in Infinite. Instead, there are weapons spawns scattered around the map. The length of time it takes for a weapon to respawn ranges from fairly short, to a sizable portion of time for the game’s Power Weapons. Power Weapons have fairly low amounts of ammo, in exchange for being incredibly destructive and often being able to one-shot other players. They include the classic rocket launcher, and the sniper rifle, along with new additions such as the skewer, and cindershot. You can only carry two weapons at once.
  3. Time to Kill – Generally speaking, it takes far longer to shoot someone to death in Halo then it does in other similar games. Unlike games like Valorant or Call of Duty, where getting the drop means you just win the fight, engagements in Halo tend to be more prolonged events where you actually get a chance to respond.

Okay, so these are the main things that differentiate Halo in terms of gameplay feel from other entries in the FPS genre. Crash course complete. So now let’s actually talk about Infinite.

The Good Stuff About Halo Infinite

Price – The Halo: Infinite multiplayer is free.
Not having to pay any money for something is almost always good. Of course, it also means that the game is going to try to get it back from you somehow, but at time of writing their are no in-game advantages that can be gained by spending money.
Guns – They’re good, and they feel good.
It’s that simple. With the exception of the shotgun (which feels bad), and the plasma pistol (which has always been garbage), everything here feels good to use. The assault rifle isn’t trash for once. The pistol is solid as a secondary, and the new weapons like the Hydra have some cool alternate fire modes. The skewer is a rocket propelled crossbow. The cindershot fires big blasts of plasma. The ravager needs its shots charged, but has some really cool area denial options.
Maps – They’re all fairly solid, and feel good. They do get re-used a decent amount, but they all feel good to play on, regardless of game mode. There’s no map that feels unbalanced or completely broken.

The Bad Stuff About Halo Infinite

Maps – Not enough of them.
Wait, maps was just up above in the “Good Stuff Category.” Why is it here? Easy. There are currently only 10 of them. Three 12v12 maps, and seven 4v4 maps.

A friend said that Halo 2 shipped with like 20 or so. So why is this shipping with 10?

Performance – Long loading times are too god damn long.
Exactly what it says on the tin. It takes me just about 2 minutes to go from clicking the “Play Button” to the point where I can actually move around and fight someone. I have no idea why these load times are so long, and this is on a 1080, but it’s still annoying.

Playlists – There are only 3 of them.
Probably the biggest issue on this list, honestly. Right now, the only playlists that you can choose from are 4v4, 12v12, and ranked. And that’s it. No team slayer, no CTF. The only thing you choose is how many people are in a given match you queue into. Look, I don’t want to play Total Control. It’s a shit game mode. Let me opt out of it. Let me make custom playlists. Let fiesta be an actual normal game type instead of a special mode.

Cosmetics/Microtransactions – Price is high, grind is too.
This is the thing that’s gotten the most media attention and player frustration. Frankly, I think it’s the lowest priority item on this list. Yes, 15 dollars for a skin is stupid. Yes, 20 games per level in the battlepass was dumb. But these are all additional little flexes/addons. They aren’t where I would be focusing my efforts if I wanted to make Infinite more enjoyable right now.

Conclusion: I’m not quite sure yet.
Halo: Infinite being free is nice, but I found myself asking “How much would I pay for this right now?” and the answer is “Not fucking $60.” What currently exists really feels like a networking test, or a bit half-baked at the moment. Right now my advice would be something like this:

If you like Halo, download and play Infinite until you stop having fun with it, and maybe come back in a few months to see if the content and performance issues have been fixed. If you don’t like Halo, but want to play a Halo game/FPS, buy the Master Chief Collection instead. Yes, MCC is $40 for the full package, or $10 per game if you want to buy them bit by bit, but they’ve got the full single player campaigns, forge, and all the other good stuff that makes Halo… well, Halo.

MicroMacro: Crime City

Zootopia with a more realistic police presence.

If Where’s Waldo, Richard Scarry’s Busytown, and Frank Miller’s Sin City had a threesome, the end result would be Crime City. That pretty much sums up MicroMacro. I like it.

“But that doesn’t actually explain anything about the game.” You say. And you’re right! But it does give me a great chance to act like I’ve actually read Sin City, and seem more cultured then I am. (I haven’t.)

So let’s have Mr. Cat explain the game for us instead. I’m sure he can help us with-

Oh dear. I guess I’ll have to do it instead.

Poor Mr. Cat. He’s yet another victim of Crime City, a lawless wasteland of blackmail, assassinations, and robbery.

MicroMacro is a hidden object/character game. Much like Where’s Waldo, you’re looking for small details in a crowd of faces and scenery, and like Busytown, it takes place across a adorable town of cute animal people. Unlike Busytown however, the city has the general tone of hardened noir. It’s filled with call girls, gun stores, fetish clubs, corrupt politicians and open air farmers markets.

This massive map makes up the titular crime city. You “play” the game by picking out case, and then going through the challenges each case offers. For example, in the case of Mr. Cat, the first step is to find the unfortunate victim. Cases are rated by how difficult they are to solve, and made up of steps. Almost all steps asks you to say “where” on the map a specific event in question occurred. The whole map has a grid system on it, so the location of an event can be referred to as A5, somewhat like battleship. (There are some exceptions to this, but I’ll cover them in gripes, because they’re related.)

As you advance through each step in the case, you’ll get more information about the crime, the perpetrator, and the motive. Requests can involve being asked to find murder weapons, trace the route taken through the city by someone involved, and occasionally trying to locate the corpse of the unfortunate individual.

Generally speaking, MicroMacro feels pretty fair as far as these things go. In the three cases I played through, there were no instances of adventure game logic or complete bullshit in play. There was one moment of some things being very cleverly hidden, but not unfairly.

With that said, I do have two gripes with the game. One is fairly minor, and it’s the fact that the game has somewhat limited replayability. This isn’t super surprising. It’s like complaining that Waldo doesn’t rehide himself each time you open the book. I think this concern might be a bit alleviated by the fact that once you finish all the cases, there are actually a few small bonus cases that aren’t included. You can find a few of them here on the game’s website, and get another one by signing up for their email list.

The bigger gripe is that the game has no good way to check your answers to a given question, without seeing the actual answer. This can be a bit frustrating, because if your group makes a guess, whoever checks the answer effectively doesn’t get to play for the rest of that request. There are also a few rare situations where the answer isn’t a battleship style grid reference, but a chain of events you’re expected to list off.

These are minor though. I like MicroMacro. I think you could probably even play the game on your own if you really wanted too, but it would be less fun than doing it with friends gathered around a big table. If this made you curious, you can find a demo of the game here, and you can likely find the game itself at your friendly local game store.

Eternal Return

I was going to write about Bloodborne this week, but I don’t want to write about Bloodborne until I finish it. And because Bloodborne is (surprise!) really fucking hard, I haven’t finished it.

So instead, we’re writing about Eternal Return, a F2P BR SURVIVAL MOBA from Korea, and presumably the apex of trying to cash in on every single gaming trend from the last ten years. At least they’re not trying to sell me NFTs. And it’s actually pretty good! From a gameplay standpoint, I mean. Everything else is… present. Y’know. It’s there.

Games start with you picking a character and starting weapon. You can swap out your weapon, but I haven’t found myself in a situation that calls for that.
In any case, once you’ve locked in your character, build, and starting zone, a countdown ticks down and the game starts.

Eternal Return’s map is static, with the same zones and layout each time you play.

Given that describing the game’s genres is a good 4 acronyms, let’s just go through them and take note of what mechanics from each genre are present. Starting with the MOBA/ARTS, or whatever other acronym you want to use for the Defense of the Legends genre.

Eternal Return is played in a top down isometric perspective. You move by clicking where you want your character to go, and the camera remains more or less locked on your character, though you can temporarily move it to look around with the mini-map. You have health and mana (which they call SP), equipment, and an inventory.

Yes, equipment and inventory. Unlike most MOBA’s, and like most survival games, these are two separate things. For your equipment, you have a set of slots that allow you to equip one of each item type (Weapon, Armband, Legs, Head, Accessory, I don’t remember the last one). You can carry more items, but they don’t actually give you stat buffs while they are in your inventory. You also mostly won’t be using your inventory for gear, you’ll be using it for… crafting materials.

Yeah, so following the survival genre, you spend a lot of time rummaging for things. Look for necklaces in cardboard boxes. Look for cardboard boxes in trash cans (No, you can’t pick up the cardboard box that the necklace was in, that’s different). Combine them to craft a shank, or just a jean jacket with spikes. Combine a rock with a glass bottle to create… broken glass. Craft broken glass with glue to create…. a glass plate.

No really. Look.

Was there seriously no better way to get a piece of unbroken glass?

The crafting is (mostly) less tedious then it might sound. Once you select your build, the map will tell you what items in your current zone are needed for it, and what you’ve already picked up. Since each zone has a separate set of items, and the game also has an autoloot function, this makes it fairly easy to figure out what you want to grab at any given point in time.

So, we’ve covered the MOBA, and the Survival game, which leaves us with the Battle Royale bit. Yes, there’s an another entire genre here. The only way to win in Eternal Return is either be the last person, or the last team standing. While this is pretty standard, and has the normal amounts of mental math of, “Do I fight or flee here?”, there’s one big tweak to the formula.

Most Battle Royale games have some sort of shrinking map that slowly closes in, and deals damage if you stay outside of the safe zone. Eternal Return has its own twist on the formula. Remember those zones I mentioned up above? As the game progresses, sets of zones get marked off to close. A two minute timer ticks down, and once that timer hits zero, the zone is closed off.

But not quite. See, you can still enter those zones. You don’t take damage, or lose life. Instead, you have a timer that ticks down each second you’re in the zone.

And if this timer hits zero, your head just fucking explodes and you die.

Now, you’re probably thinking “Wait, that just seems like a minor twist” on the whole “Collapse the play area to force the players into conflict” mechanic. And you would be right, if it wasn’t for how the end game works. Eventually the whole map becomes a death zone. At this point, whoever has the most time left in their bank can win without killing anyone as long as they can outlast their opponents.

The other interesting thing about it is how it opens up movement and routing. In most Battle Royales, leaving the safe zone is certain death, but in Eternal Return, if you find yourself losing a fight, running into a death zone can be a valid tactic. Even if the player fighting you is stronger, they’ll have to spend time to actually continue the chase, putting themselves at a disadvantage in the late game, which they may not want to do.

Okay, so that’s enough nice things about Eternal Return. Lets talk about all the annoying bullshit, and frustrating things about the game.

Starting with the minor stuff, the moment to moment gameplay of fights feels heavily inspired by the sort of twitch/micro movement of League of Legends. While this is neat if you like League, if you’re a Dota player like me, if you don’t play those games, I imagine it can feel a bit frantic and annoying. This is entirely taste based, which is why it’s the most minor.

Next up, the characters you play as. They are incredibly dull and boring. They feel like a series of characters pulled from random first draft webtoons. Their background has the flavor of a one-shot tabletop RPG character, with none of the interesting bits or quirks. I can’t tell if this is the result of garbage localization, but it feels like it might be.

I want to be clear: Leon’s background is possibly the best written of anyone’s in the game, if only because the idea of someone taking the “Are you winning son?” meme of a father walking in on their child crossdressing and making that into the lore for a character is at least a little funny.

Finally, all of the out-of-game UIs and menus suck. Why can’t I do anything while in queue? Why does queueing for a solo match require me to create a 1 player party? Why does trying to create a build suck so much, and why do builds only allow single item paths?

Oh, and on the subject of crafting: there consumable items you can craft (food and traps), but you can’t add these items to your build. You have to add them to your build queue in game after you’ve finished other items. I’m sure pros memorize what secondary items they’ll need and how to craft them. But maybe I should just be allowed to have secondary crafting targets added.

These are all minor gripes though. They won’t stop me from playing the game. The next two problems are bigger and straight up frustrating.

If you queue for a game, have the queue find a game, and then decline the game, you get a shadow ban from matchmaking. To be clear, the game doesn’t tell you that you’re shadow banned. But this has happened to both me and a friend, and the next time we tried to queue, we sat in queue for over 40 minutes without finding a match. We eventually then gave up because we had better things to do with our days. So if you… oh, I don’t know, queue for solos, have a friend hop on, then decline the queue, then queue for duos, you won’t be able to play because now you’re shadowed banned.

The biggest problem that I have with Eternal Return, though, is how hard it is understand why you lost, and to learn from your losses. Fights are small, twitchy, and complex affairs, and tend to be over in under a minute maximum. And when you die, you get kicked out to the menu. You can’t spectate your killer, or watch them to see if they win. Did you die because you overcommitted? Because you missed skill shots? Because they had food to heal, even though you both had large amounts of damage? Did you just get outplayed? Because it’s just a bad matchup? I don’t know, and there’s no way to find out by playing the game.

To my mind, this is the single biggest flaw of Eternal Return. Almost every other Battle Royale offers death spectate. Most MOBA’s have replays. Eternal Return has nothing. Just a single look at the scoreboard, and good luck, go play another game!

So yeah, that’s Eternal Return. Apparently it’s a big hit in Korea? It’s free to start, so if the mechanics sound interesting, I’d say check it out. You can download it for free on Steam here.

Author’s Note: Also, there are a few systems in the game I didn’t cover, like CCTV’s, and various EXP and weapon types, but I’m not sure they add enough mechanically to be likely convince someone to play the game.

Author Note: If I hear one more person refer to the art style of game as “anime” I will cut a motherfucker. The game is Korean, from Korea, made by a Korean studio. The art style is closer to something like Tower of God, or another Webtoon style thing. Just because none of the women in the game have heard of pants, and all the men have sparkle eyes doesn’t fucking make it anime.

Editor’s Note: Okay but, like, it’s definitely anime. Are you telling me that the guy on the left isn’t straight out of Naruto?



Tanto Cuore

A deckbuilder that will have you collecting anime maids, and also judging looks from anyone who sees you playing.

I like Tanto Cuore and I’m not afraid to say it. Many of the mechanics feel like a upgrade over Dominion, and while it doesn’t have some of the variety of Ascension, it does avoid the randomness. If you haven’t played either of those games, that’s okay. I’ll talk more about the mechanics in a bit. But first, a brief diatribe.

Something I thought about while preparing to write this article was the fact that I have different standards for when I feel like I can write about a game based on format. For board games, a single full play session is usually enough for me to feel like I can offer an opinion. On the flip side, I’ve recently played like 40 hours of Bloodborne, but because I haven’t beaten the game, I don’t feel like I can offer thoughts yet.

It’s an interesting dichotomy, and it would be relevant to the rest of this article, because while I’m playing the digital edition of Tanto Cuore, the game itself is a board game. So even though I haven’t beaten all the single player levels, or even a majority of them, I’ve played several more rounds then I might have if it was a standard board game. At the same time, I would usually feel a bit weird reviewing a game with only five hours played.

The key phrase here is “would usually.” Because 98% of the human population is going to decide that they don’t want to play Tanto Cuore after the next sentence:

Tanto Cuore is a deckbuilder in which all of your cards are anime maids.

Have we scared off the normies with this photo? Good.

Cool, so yeah, now that no one else is going to read the rest of this article, let’s get going, starting with a short definition of the deckbuilder genre.

If you haven’t played a deckbuilder before, they generally work something like this: each player starts with a simple deck of cards. On your turn, you play those cards to take actions, and generate resources to buy more cards from some form of central supply to add to your deck. Cards you buy or play go into your discard pile, and when you run out of cards to draw from your deck, you shuffle your discard pile and it becomes your deck again. Unlike a traditional collectible card game like Yu-Gi-Oh or Magic: The Gathering, with deckbuilders you create your deck each time you play the game. You start from scratch with the same deck of simple cards each time you play.

The goal of Tanto Cuore is to have the most victory points at the end of the game, because of course it is. Now that we’ve talked about the most boring part of the game, let’s move onto the maids cards.

Tanto Cuore has four types of cards. There are love cards, general maids, private maids, and events. Of those four, private maids and events are the simplest to explain, so we’ll start with them.

Private maids don’t go into your deck. Instead, they go into a scoring zone. When you buy a private maid, it enters your scoring zone, and until you buy another private maid, or something else special happens, you can use its ability. They also tend to be worth victory points at the end of the game. While the abilities can appear small at first, they tend to be mechanically impactful.

Events also don’t go into your deck. In fact, they don’t go anywhere related to you at all. When you buy an event, you play it onto another player, or one of that player’s maids in their private quarter. Events tend to either disable abilities, or be worth negative victory points.

Of the remaining two card types, the simplest cards are Love cards. Love is the currency you use to hire maids, and love cards can be played without spending any resources. In any other game, these would be called “Gold” or “Money.” But yeah, here it’s Love.

Which brings us to the last card type: the maids themselves. The maids are the most complex and as such covering them all in detail isn’t possible. Instead, I’m going to give a general overview of the sort of things they do and how they get used.

There are three resources that you have on your turn. They are Love, Hires, and Servings. Love is used to pay the cost to get maids. However, in addition for each maid you get, you also need to spend a Hire. The last resource, Servings, actually has two uses. You can spend Servings to play maid cards, but you can also use them to send specific maids to your scoring zone. Doing this removes the maid from your deck, but allows it to potentially also score bonus end game victory points.

It’s this mechanic that I think really makes Tanto Cuore stand out to me as a different from other deckbuilders in a meaningful way. Almost all deckbuilders have some form of victory point card that sits around and does nothing, or cards that are useful in the early game, but clog your engine in the late game. In Tanto Cuore, many of those cards are actually your primary method of scoring. Colette Framboise is the best example of this. You can spend two Servings to remove her from your deck, which scores you points. And since your deck starts with only 10 cards, removing her can vastly increase deck efficiency.

So, now that we’ve finally finished talking about Tanto Cuore’s mechanics, let’s talk a bit more about the digital version of the game, since it’s probably the easiest version of the game for you to currently get your hands on (and forcefully gift to your friends in order into guilt them into playing with you).

Overall, I think it does a fairly good job as a digital port of a physical game. While some things do feel a bit barebones, none of those are the actual game itself. There’s also an extensive singleplayer mode/tutorial with a variety of levels that seems to unlock foil versions of the cards as you clear the levels will completing various objectives. The video and audio sliders actually work really well, and the game has ultra-wide monitor support for some reason. Protip: After launching the game, go in and just… slide that slider for voices all the way off. Thank me later.

I do have one gripe with the digital version of the game though: as far as I can tell, there’s no way to see a list of all the cards in the game. See, at the start of each game, you pick several different maids to be placed into the central buy row. The rest of the cards aren’t used for that game. But this means it’s entirely possible to start a game and see a few cards you haven’t ever seen before. It’s not a massive annoyance, but I really wish there was an in-game card browser, or like… a PDF.

So yeah, that’s Tanto Cuore. A really cool deckbuilder about collecting maids that none of your friends will play with you, either because you had no friends before getting the game, or you won’t have any after trying to get them to play it. Remember kids, Settlers of Catan and every other Euro-game that promotes colonialism and hyper capitalism is a-ok, but god forbid you have skimpily dressed anime women. That’s simply a bridge too far.

Tanto Cuore is $10 on Steam, $42 on Amazon on the physical copy, and apparently like $1800 for the Japanese edition? Yeah, I don’t know either. It’s good though, and worth playing (although probably not for $1800).

Fishards

Become a Fish Wizard. Fight. Kill. Collect silly hats.

Ed Note: We requested and received a few free keys of Fishards after watching the trailer, and being interested. This review is based on the experience with those pre-release game keys. Images are from the Steam Page.

When I saw the trailer for Fishards, I thought it looked neat, and convinced 3 other friends to play it with me. Of that group, I’m the only person who was kinda “Eh” on Fishards, with everyone else generally liking the game, even if they had some criticism. But they’re not writing this article, so lets talk about what I thought about it, and what the game generally is first.

In Fishards, you are a Fish Wizard. By combing the 5 elements, fire, water, earth, slime, and goo, you will cast spells, and defeat your enemies. Each combination of elements produces a specific spell.

While its tempting to compare Fishards to Magikca, I think this is a fairly inaccurate comparison. After going back and playing some Magicka for this writeup, while both games have a concept of “Combine elements for spells”, they both do it very differently. In Magicka, the elements you combine have various properties and rules. While there are specific spells that require you to enter a given combo of elements, just randomly pressing buttons will give you something. For example, if you combine lightning and beam, you get a beam that does lightning damage.

That’s not the case in Fishards. In Fishards, any two elements correlate to a specific spell, with it’s own specific cooldown. It reminds me a lot of playing the character Invoker in Dota 2. Because each spell instance has it’s own cooldown, you can’t really spam the same thing over and over again. There are a few exceptions to this rule, with the fireball and goo-spread spells that let you cast them multiple times. But a vast majority of them cannot be multicast, so you’re forced to switch up spells fairly rapidly.

Another way it’s unlike Magikca is that Fishards is technically stable and runs fairly well. While this is to it’s credit, I also never really found myself super engrossed in the game. If this article sounds kind of…. “Eh” on Fishards, that’s because it is. I don’t really feel strongly about Fishards. It’s neat, but right now, I didn’t really have a huge amount of fun with it.

Here’s the thing though: That’s just my thoughts. Of the group of folks I played with, other folks had some more positive thoughts. One friend generally liked the combo system, even if they thought the spells and other factors needed some tuning. The other two had issues seeing the cursor, but after the Dev’s were told about this, there was a patch that resolved this issue fairly quickly.

You can get Fishards here on Steam for $7. And y’know, that’s probably the right price for it. If the idea of a weird indie top down arena brawler interests you, I’d encourage you to give it a look, and see if you think you’d have fun with it.

Crowfall

More like Crowfail.

I’ve been trying to figure out what to write about Crowfall for the last few days. Let’s start with my opinion on the game: Crowfall is too fucking expensive to be worth playing. And when I say expensive, I mean both in terms of money and time.

If you want, you can close this article now, because the rest of it is going to be an extensive exercise in dead horse beating. If you’re still here, please grab your stick and join me.

I’d tolerate the mediocre graphics if the gameplay had any redeeming features. It doesn’t.

I want to start by talking about the easiest part of Crowfall to quantify: the simple monetary cost. Crowfall is $40, and it also has a monthly VIP system that costs about $15 a month. This puts it about on par in terms of pure cost with its competitors. Final Fantasy 14 is $60 for the full game with 4 expansions, and a required monthly subscription of about $15. World of Warcraft is $40, and also $15 a month plus the incalculable cost of knowing you’re supporting Activision-Blizzard, making it cost effectively infinite money. New World is $40 and the knowledge that you’re adding Jeff Bezos’s draconic horde of wealth.

So yeah, Crowfall is currently priced up there with a game that had more players on launch day than Crowfall has had estimated players total. And before you ask why I don’t have a better source for numbers, it’s because the devs turned that part of the API off.

This is a problem, because on a scale of “Virtual Disneyland” to “Digital Version of Detroit,” Crowfall is the latter. It wants to be a hardcore PVP game, with fights for territory, resources, and areas going on constantly. It has castles and landmarks that you can build up and guilds to join. As soon as you’re out of the pure tutorial world, when you die you drop 50% of your gold.

In the normal world, when you die, you drop half your inventory.

I have a bunch of small problems with Crowfall, but I have small problems with almost every game, so I’m going to talk about the big problem I have with Crowfall: the game expects you to do everything with other people. And not just a few other people, a lot of other people.

Let me give an example: One of Crowfall’s big ideas is that you are a “Crow,” a semi-immortal soul repeatedly brought back to life by the gods in order to fight for them. In terms of in-game mechanics, this means that to level up past a given point, you need to get and fuse with a new body.

Getting these bodies requires that you start by digging up body parts. In order to do this and get anything that’s not garbage, you’ll need the grave digger discipline. I believe it counts as an exploration discipline (more on that later). However, in addition to that discipline, which is a socketable rune, you’ll actually want an upgraded version of the grave digger, which you get by… farming random rune drops from digging up corpses. This requires you to have an intermediate shovel at a minimum, which means you’ll need to craft yourself a shovel, then upgrade it, which means you’ll need to mine and quarry stone, because those two are different. Once you have your upgraded rune that you got from RNG and upgrading (and you’ll need to socket Runecraft to actually upgrade it, I believe) you can actually start grinding again. Now, when you’ve finished grinding, you’ll have the body parts. You can’t use them yet, of course, you need to remake them. This means combining them with some other body parts, and also Ambrosia, which you’ll need an alchemist to make. Now that you’ve got all your body parts collected, you can finally combine them into a new vessel.

Hooray! Did I mention that doing this requires that you collect the right type of each body part for the right race of character that you want to create?

So why are we doing all of this? Well, because without doing it, you can’t actually play in a Shadows World, which is to say the big boy world. Up until then, you’ll play in what is basically a tutorial world. That’s right, this multi-step process just to create a character is more or less before you can actually start playing the full game.

Remember how I said we’d come back to that bit about minor disciplines? Well, you can only actually have two equipped at once, and you can only change them out in a temple. Long story short, there’s no reasonable way to do all of what I described above as a single person, or even a pair. You’ll need a guild or another group to work with. Without one, you’ll most likely have to stay in the beginner world, where drop rates are lower, and buildings seem to reset daily.

Now, it’s entirely possible you read all of this, and go “Wow, that seems like the game for me!” And maybe it is. Maybe you’re all excited about PvP, farming for random items for hours, and ganking other players.

One tiny problem: remember how I mentioned the devs hiding the player count up above? Well, that might be because the servers are incredibly fucking dead. In my time spent during the trial, I feel like I saw less than 30 players total outside of the spawn area.

Yeah, the game is not highly populated.

I have some other problems as well. The auto-attacks put all of your other abilities on cooldown, making combat super frustrating. The number of enemy types in PVE are really low. There’s no form of inventory sorting, meaning that your inventory more or less ends up looking like Minecraft. Speaking of mining, your auto attack and your harvesting abilities are bound to same key, so if you don’t click on that boulder correctly, you’re now in combat until that cooldown wears off in a few seconds. Oh, and if you try to put items of a type you already have into your bank, but don’t have an empty bank slot, you can’t. Even though you already have those items in your bank.

So yeah. Crowfall is an attempt at a sandbox, heavy player interaction MMO, but because there’s nobody playing it, and it takes forever to do anything. It’s filled with small annoyances, and systems that don’t feel fun (I’m looking at you, obscenely fast gear decay). Some of its ideas are decent, but on those bones sits nothing of interest.

All this to say: I don’t recommend.

Storybook Brawl

Storybook Brawl is a very solid auto-battler, even though I don’t like how it’s monetized at the moment.

I like Storybook Brawl. There are a few things about it that I find a little annoying, but otherwise I think it’s pretty fun. Oh right, I’m supposed to explain what Storybrook Brawl is: it’s a card-drafting auto battler.

For anyone who read that and went “Okay, cool” you can skip the next few paragraphs. For the other 98% of the population who can’t understand an entire game from 2 jargony phrases, let me explain what “Card Drafting” and “Auto Battling” is, and how they’re used in Storybook Brawl.

“Card Drafting” first. At the start of the game, and after each combat, you’re given some gold to buy with, and a row of several units to buy. If you don’t like any of the units available, you can also spend gold to reroll your shop’s selection. While this does leave you with less gold, since gold doesn’t carry over between rounds, you generally want to spend it all.

As the game goes on, your hero will level up and this center pool will include more powerful units. Generally speaking, you only get one experience point per round, but there a few spells that can accelerate leveling up and being able to buy better units.

Oh, we haven’t talked about spells have we? Unless a spell says otherwise, you can cast one spell per round. They have a variety of effects, from random damage on enemy units, to permanent buffs to your own units. Just like units, you get access to more expensive and powerful spells as your hero levels up.

You’ll have about 60 seconds or so to do all of your drafting. At the start of the game 60 seconds tends to be a lot of time to make your drafting decisions. But by the end of the game, where there are more decisions and choices piling up, you usually need all your time.

After that 60 seconds passes, we get to what an “Auto Battler” is. At this point, whatever lineup you’ve managed to create gets matched up against another player’s lineup, and going from top left to bottom right, your units take turns attacking each other. Whoever runs out of units first is the loser, and takes damage equal to… the opposing player’s current level plus the levels of their units that remain on the board. If your thought is “Huh, that equation doesn’t seem super intuitive,” I’d agree. When you run out of health, you lose, and games continue until only one player is left.

Okay, so I’m running out of energy to write this article, and we still haven’t actually talked about any of the unit cards themselves, or treasure, or tripling, or keywords. So I’m gonna burn through them, and then see if my editor tells me that I haven’t covered the mechanics enough.

First up, units! The game has quite a few. I’m going to talk about just one keyword that units can have as it’s my favorite example of something interesting the game does: Slay. Slay is a triggerable keyword that occurs whenever the unit attacks and kills another unit. The important bit here is “Attacks.” If a unit with slay is attacked, and kills the other unit on the defense, that doesn’t trigger the keyword. Using slay effectively means either gambling that your unit will get the first attack, or buffing it high enough to be able to take a hit, and smash back.

Next up: Tripling. When you draft three copies of a unit, those three copies combine into a higher level version of that unit with better stats, and if that unit has an ability, a stronger version of that ability. This is where another neat part of the game comes into play. When the units combine, any buffs that they had as single units also merge onto the upgraded unit. This means that a unit that was decently statted with a few buffs can suddenly become an absolute powerhouse.

The other big thing that happens when you triple a unit is that you get a treasure. You can have up to three treasures at any given point in time. If you’d get a 4th one, you have to choose between throwing out one of your current ones, or skipping the new one.

There’s one more bit mechanic, so let’s talk about heroes. Choosing a hero is the first thing that happens each round, but I’ve saved it for last because it’s also one of my few big gripes with the game.

At the very start of the game, you’re offered a choice of 4 heroes, of which two will automatically be unlocked, and 2 might be unlocked. How big an impact your chosen hero will have on the game can vary quite heavily. Some, like my personal favorite, Morgan Le Fae have almost no impact on your drafting selections, while others can change the cards you want to draft massively. Peter Pan is biggest offender of the second category.

The issue I have with this system is two-fold. First off, I don’t really like that my strategy for a round can end up feeling defined by hero selection. And secondly, I really don’t like how this ties in with the monetization. Remember when I mentioned that you’ll be given a choice of 4 heroes, but can only pick from two of the four guaranteed? That’s because the last 2 are only selectable if you’ve either spent real money to unlock them, or the in-game currency of dust. So while the game isn’t directly “P2W”, it does end up feeling “Pay for More Options.”

I don’t hate this enough to stop playing but it doesn’t feel good.

And that’s Storybook Brawl! Except I didn’t talk about how the various archetypes work together with each other really smoothly. Or how the Good/Evil keyword is really interesting as a sort of Boolean typing on a given unit that can be on any unit, but can only be in one of the states at once. Or how the prince/princess meta is absolute cancer at the moment and King Arthur needs to be nerfed again.

Winning in Storybook Brawl ends up being a combination of unit placement, drafting ability, and yes, some luck. But it feels less random than other auto battlers I’ve played because there’s more synergy between various archetypes of units present.

The end result is that Storybook Brawl is a very solid auto battler, even though I don’t quite like how it’s monetized at the moment. If any of what I’ve described above sounds interesting, I encourage you to download it here on Steam, and give it a shot.